The Auto Club 400 At Fontana from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

There ain’t nothing gone like I thought it would so far in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. Okay… I got that out of my system for now, but it’s true; none of the races so far in this season have ended at all like just about anyone would have thought they would. It makes this fan wonder if it will be the same this weekend as the Cup teams take on the two mile Auto Club Speedway at Fontana.

Unfortunately, it seems the worst thing a driver can do is dominate a race, at least so far. I’m not trying to make a statement but it has been interesting that a driver has won and, to most any fan’s surprise, it didn’t look as though they had any chance at all as they entered the last ten laps of any of the four races so far this season.

It has been a little bit of a strange weekend at the Auto Club Speedway so far and practice and qualifying showed just how strange things were. Even an owl got into the strangeness and interrupted practice on Friday for a short while. Several cars did not make a qualifying lap and that included Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano. Jimmie Johnson opted out since he had a late incident in practice that caused his team to move to a backup car. Joey Logano just didn’t make it onto the grid in time and will now have to start near the rear on Sunday afternoon also.

From this fan’s view it appears the teams are struggling a bit with the reduced down force package for this season and the character of the track. It is abrasive and many drivers have been calling for more grip. (Of course we all know drivers want more grip everywhere they go.) It does appear this weekend’s race could be a bit more “challenging” than some might think though. It was very obvious during practice and qualifying the cars were moving around a lot on the 2 mile oval and many were a bit tail happy. I think, at least from this fan’s view, this could make for a very interesting afternoon, especially when they get started racing in groups two, three, four and possibly even five wide during the Auto Club 400, especially during any restarts.

Earlier I mentioned several didn’t make any qualifying laps but qualifying really only affects pit selection from my view. At times, it makes a great difference in how things work out for a driver and his team after their pit stop and at other times it makes very little difference at all. On a track like this, track position is very important and their location in the pits can make a bad stop even worse while the reverse can be true with a good one. During this race, pit selection could make or break the chances of someone winning especially during a late race caution or even a late race green flag stop.

Except for Kyle Larson, so far this season the Chevys have shown themselves to be a little behind the rest of the manufacturers and especially the Fords. Of particular interest to this fan – since I used to race Chevys – is the performance of the Hendrick Chevys. Once again, if it weren’t for Chase Elliott, the Hendrick teams just haven’t shown their usual strength. From this fan’s view and if memory serves me correctly, they had a similar slow start last season and that means there is probably no cause for concern for their fans. If things continue on as they have so far though, it just may not be one of their best years. Jimmie Johnson has been up and down and Dale Jr. just hasn’t shown he is fully back into the swing of it all yet. Kasey Kahne is showing improvement but just hasn’t made that many headlines yet. It is unusual but not all that concerning for the Chevys to be a little behind the curve early in the season. After all, the competition is tighter than it has been recently and Ryan Newman did win in his Childers Chevy last weekend.

The big question on most everyone’s mind this weekend is whether or not Kyle Larson will have his fourth second place finish in a row or whether he might be the one taking the trophy instead of being that “also ran.” I’m not willing to make a statement on him winning but I would remind all of us that the dominant car in the first four races has not won yet. Will Kyle dominate and win or will it go as it has so far in 2017? Well… I guess we won’t know that until the checkered flag falls on the winner late Sunday, will we? Personally, I’m thinking this is going to be a good one filled with drama right down to the finish, how about you…?

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© March 25, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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